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Face to Face with NIDA
A Conference on Drugs, Youth and the Internet
by Fire Erowid
Oct 2002
Citation:   Erowid, Fire. "Face to Face with NIDA: A Conference on Drugs, Youth and the Internet". Erowid Extracts. Oct 2002;3:2.
In early June 2002, Earth and I traveled to Bethesda, Maryland to speak at a small conference held by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) on the topic of "Drugs, Youth, and the Internet".

As a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NIDA's stated mission is "to conduct research into drug abuse and addiction and to disseminate the results of that research to improve drug abuse and addiction prevention, treatment, and policy." Despite this noble mission, we often disagree with NIDA's official stance on one issue or another; and so it was with some surprise that we found ourselves invited to speak.

Unfortunately, our plane flight to the East Coast was overly eventful. Our layover in Chicago turned into three hours in the airplane sitting on the tarmac, and another stressful four hours in the airport before we were notified that all flights heading East were cancelled for the evening. We were able to make it to a hotel in time to get three hours of sleep before returning to the airport. After an uneventful flight to Baltimore, we were picked up and driven to NIDA's headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, just in time for our scheduled 11 a.m. talk.

The room contained a large conference table, around which sat the 20 primary conference participants. Another 40 chairs around the outside of the room were mostly filled, bringing the total attendance to about 60. We took a moment to introduce ourselves to our hosts and meet the representatives from Bluelight (bluelight.nu), and then took our places at the table.

Sleep-deprived and highly caffeinated, we had a few minutes to evaluate the situation before it was our turn to speak. We introduced ourselves to the room and spent a few minutes describing the Erowid project. First, we talked about the history of the site: how and when it got its start, how it has grown over the past six years, how many people visit the site, and who those people are. We also described the types of information presented on Erowid and what we're trying to accomplish.

After we finished speaking, we had a chance to listen to a number of other speakers--mostly government-sponsored researchers--talk about research they had conducted either using the internet, or investigating the relationship between the internet and drugs of abuse. Among those speakers were Kit Bonson of the FDA, John Halpern from McLean Hospital/Harvard University, Edward Boyer, author of "Websites with Misinformation about Drugs," the New England Journal of Medicine article that was mentioned in the last issue of Erowid Extracts, and Edward Murguia of Texas A&M University.

The afternoon was filled with discussion of potential interactions between NIDA researchers and drug information websites such as Erowid and Bluelight. We were also asked what suggestions we had for research that NIDA should be conducting, as well as what ways NIDA could help Erowid. After spending quite a bit of time preparing for potential questions, these definitely surprised us.

We had two primary suggestions. The first was for NIDA to conduct basic toxicological research into new and emerging recreational drugs before they become popular or even illegal. NIDA shouldn't wait until after people have died to look for potential dangers and mechanisms of pharmacological activity and risk. Second, we recommended that NIDA work to create interaction charts for recreationally used psychoactives and prescription medications, to gather into one place known information about how, for example, Prozac or Paxil interact with tryptamines, how Wellbutrin reacts with cocaine or amphetamines, or how Zoloft interacts with DXM. When new pharmaceuticals arrive on the market, NIDA should fund basic interaction evaluations with the most common recreational drugs.

Both of these suggestions were well received and seemed to spark interest among some of the researchers. In fact, since the meeting, we've been told that some work may have already begun in these areas as a result of our discussions.

Perhaps the most amusing and striking moment of the conference occurred during the round-table discussion about ways in which Erowid and NIDA could work together. A researcher from NIDA spoke up and stated that s/he wasn't sure that the two groups should work together because it could possibly ruin Erowid's reputation among our visitors. In all seriousness, s/he was concerned that if Erowid's visitors saw that we were working with NIDA in any capacity, our credibility could be ruined.

Obviously this is a real issue, though one we didn't expect to hear voiced by those at NIDA. Erowid and NIDA don't exactly see eye to eye on how data, research, and information should be conducted and distributed. What would Erowid visitors and members think of any sort of collaboration between the two groups? Is such a collaboration possible without compromising our beliefs and mission?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, we were very surprised and pleased by how positively we were received by both the researchers and NIDA staff who were present. While we certainly disagree about many issues, it is clear that at many levels in the government infrastructure there are scientists who are fully aware of the subtleties, mysteries, and complexities of the human relationship to psychoactives. It was a pleasure to have a chance to share ideas and debate viewpoints with thoughtful researchers who normally live on the other side of the invisible fence of politics.